411 Music Interview 05.18.11: Atmosphere
Posted by Bill Wannop on 05.18.2011
Check out the 411mania exclusive video interview with Slug from Atmosphere! Listen as he answers questions about the response to his latest album, why he rarely provides guest vocals, leaving songs open for interpretation, ideas for his next album and much more!
Atmosphere is one of the most commercially successful independent hip hop groups of all time. Forming in 1989, composed of rapper Slug and producer Ant, the group has released 16 albums over the years, as well as managed to form their own successful rap label, Rhymesayers Entertainment. While promoting the release of their latest album, The Family Sign 411mania was able to catch up with Slug while on tour in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Part 1: Hear Slug talk about talk about the new album, smile-less records, leaving his songs open for interpretation, why he doesn't provide many guest vocals and more.
Part 2: Slug continues the interview talking about his relationship with Ant as well as an idea for his next album.
You're out promoting your recent album The Family Sign
Slug: I'm promoting pregnancy.
Haha. So the album was released last month, what has the response been to the album?
Slug: People hated it. They said it was too slow and quiet, and it's just too damn good…
The response has been good, as with all of our records, we polarize fans of rap. Some people really, really like us, some people really, really dislike us, there is not too many people that ride the fence with us. I like that position. I like making people like us or hate us, cus no matter what, it means that you have an opinion on us and I appreciate that. Even people that don't like us you're still allowing us room to play a part in your artistic identity. You know, because hate is strong, love is strong, the hulk is strong. You guys have the Hulk in Canada?
Slug: Will you let him go? We need him back.
This album is a little bit more serious than your past releases as it has a little less humor.
Slug: What? What? There is all kinds of humor on this record. What do you mean? Let me see there is all kinds of humor on this record. "Millennium Dodo", that is a song, if me and ant were to have a kid together, that's the character he would be. I think that's hilarious, I think that's funny. There is a song on there called "Bad Bad Daddy", that's about all of the indie rappers that came out of my balls. All the rappers I gave birth too and how I am disappointed in them and they are shitty kids. Ahhhh "Just For Show" is a song about a lost dog. Hilarity. So Much funny. Tons of funny. You and your Canadian comedians cannot touch this. Umm I don't know. You think this record is more serious?
A Little Bit more then the past ones…
Slug: What record's weren't'? When was the last time we made a funny album?
Not funny per se, but you had humor mixed in.
Slug: There was no humor on the last record, was there? On the life gives you Lemons record was there any humor at all? That was a smile less record. No Smiles. Calgary!!!
A lot of your songs are story type songs and you leave them open for interpretation." Just for Show" if you hear the album and watch the video you may be surprised as the video is about a dog. Do you do that on purpose?
Slug: It's not really about a dog, it's about my relationship with the audience. But we liked the video treatment, because the dog is supposed to be me, if I was a dog named Chloe. I do leave things open for interpretation intentionally because to me that is part of the fun of music especially for the listener. To break down the science of the song, for what I want that song to be about. That has an influence on how I write my songs.
You used a lot more live instruments that you have done over the last couple albums. Why is that?
Slug: Its just learning new things, pushing ourselves to try to see what we can create out of thin air. Making something out of nothing. Ummm, just as I have gotten older I have become friends with more and more musicians and not just rappers. When I was a kid I was only friends with other rappers. As I have gotten older I have become friends with other types of musicians, other types of artists in general. So I think it has kind of been a natural progression.
Why would you wear heels to school? I just don't get it why would you wear high heels to school. Unless you are going to strip at school. I have seen more high heels on this campus then I ever would have thought. You guys are getting your masters in pole dancing.
I think its actually graduation this week.
Slug: Ahhh. What does that got to do with anything?
You have to dress up
What does the sign on the cover of the new album represent?
Slug: If you shake it, it means I got to go potty, in sign language this means I have to pee, If you hold it still it's the letter T, and in the Czech Republic it means fuck you, in Brazil it means hope, it means a lot of stuff everywhere so I figured, fuck it, I will give it a meaning too since everybody else does it, it's not like this (raises middle finger), this means one thing everywhere you go. This means different shit in different parts of the world. In Canada it means I have had breast augmentation. And it's rare, there are not many people up here with fake boobs.
Do you know that from experience?
Slug: No I read that on the internet. You ever been on the internet? It's cool. I like the internet.
You first started as an DJ then transitioned to a emcee. Was it always your goal to get in front of the microphone?
Slug: I always liked everything, I mean I embraced hip hop culture at an early age. I was a break-dancer, a graffiti writer, a DJ, a rapper, I even liked sneakers, you know? I just like hip-hop, a lot, too much, my wife thinks I like it too much.
On a lot of your albums, you don't really have many guest features, and you don't really provide vocals for other peoples albums. Why is that?
Slug: I don't believe in selling verses or paying people to rap a verse for you. I don't believe in that shit. To me its music, it's a language, its art, you know? It's something that I hold very close to me, I treat it like that. I don't want to be a whore. I don't want to contribute to the whoredom. Is that a word whoredom? Whoredom, whoredom… Put it in a song and it will be a word
Slug: I am really good at putting words in songs that aren't really words. I do it all the time and later on my wife goes, you know that's not really a word? And I go why didn't you tell me before we released the record? Now I look stupid, inept…inept… I don't say that word often enough…INEPT……TRAIN…
You have known ANT for a long time. Do you ever picture yourself putting out a record without any of his input or production?
Slug: I doubt it, you know once again it goes back to how I feel about music, and how I treat music. I can't imagine that I will ever be that close with another producer that I am with Anthony. So ya I kind of doubt it, but you know you never know. Maybe one day ANT will be like I quit I'm moving to Costa Rica fuck this shit, I'm going to go down there and open up a surf board rental shop. I'll be like ahh shit I need beats. So when you hear about Anthony's surf rental shop y'all send me beats. You heard it here first at 411….something…
Slug: Mania at 411mania the info mania, if you want to be manic about your knowledge you go to 411mania where we have all kinds of information here at 411mania.com. You can info anything from the honey badger, to forgotten Ultramagnetic songs to… this is not a perm….I don't have a perm….More info, I don't have a perm.
You and Ant have worked together for a long time and one of the dangers that happens to rapper/producer teams, is that every record starts to sound the same. How have you two managed to keep it fresh on every record?
Slug: Insecurity. We are both insecure. We are afraid of doing it the same way every time. I wonder why I keep writing the same song over and over though? I don't know man, I think that we just have a desire to keep pushing and challenging ourselves to try something different. So that we don't get bored maybe? That would be the easy answer, but the not so easy answer would be that we evolve as people. Every 2 to 3 years all of us do, I think with that evolution your ideas and thoughts and your moral compass should evolve as well. I think that should affect the art you make.
You know I look at artists who have been doing this for 15 years and they still sound the same as they did when they first came out. I think they are selling out. I think when artists do that it is because they found an audience that likes what they do and they are so focused on keeping that audience and spoon feeding that audience to keep them happy and to keep them content that they keep regurgitating the same thing over and over. To me that is kind of the definition of a sellout. I feel that if you do not challenge your audience with the opportunity to not like you any more then you are not really doing anybody a favor you know, especially yourself.
How have you managed to keep it independent for so long and was there ever a time where you were close to signing with a major label?
Slug: We were never close. Back in 2002 when we released God Love Ugly every major label asked us to sit down for a meeting. Not to sign us just to pick our brains about what we were trying to do. This was really the start of the majors trying to buy up the indies and trying to develop indie artists as if they weren't major label artists. Because independent became the new fashion, the new trend and when that happened, I thought these guys wanted to be nice and buy me lunch and shit. It took me a minute to realize that they were picking our brain because they wanted to take what we had taught ourselves and try to apply it to some of the indie bands that they had accumulated.
To this day I still see artists come out, like even this month, there are artists that are coming out, I am not going to say no names, but they have this indie credibility to them but if you really look behind the scenes they got puppet masters that are really telling them what to do, like go make a youtube video yourselves, like jumping off the roof, kids love that right now, you know and just whatever. It's kind of a funny thing, the industry is dyeing, they started dying like 10 years ago and they will try anything they can to try and stay on that and the indie artists are all falling for it, because we all want to make a dollar, we all want to be able to quit out day jobs, we all want to be able to make music for a living so that we can buy time to make more music for a living.
Obviously we weren't close to signing any deals with anyone; we just went for the free lunches. I made couple of decent friends out of it. A couple of A&R and label executives they were cool, they just wanted to talk and figure us out and now we are friends. There was a couple that tried to sign me and when we made it obvious that we were not going to sign you can tell which ones were dicks, because those are the ones that never even stopped to say hi again. Whereas some of them were like we respect the fact that you didn't sign with my label, and it's a good thing because 2 years after that meeting the label fell to pieces, you know what I mean. It's like one of those things that is accidentally fresh. Our trajectory has been accidentally fresh. I think that is the first time that I have ever used the word trajectory. I don't even know if I pronounced it right, but I am going to pretend like I did.
You have accomplished a lot in your career, what future goals do you have?
Slug: I want to open a boutique hotel in my city that caters to travelling musicians and I want to charge them money. I want to live off of musicians. I have spent enough time making my money off of people who enjoy music now I want to start making money off of people who make music. But not in a label way. I just want to sell them a room or a meal.
What can fans expect on the Family Sign tour?
Slug: Family fun. Rapping, there is going to be some rapping, curse words, cus that's hip hop, shoes, I don't know how to answer that question.
Is it true DJ Abilities got stopped at the border?
Slug: I don't know if I am allowed to answer that question. DJ Abilities is not here, ya he is not in Canada right now.
How long does the tour go till?
Slug: Forever man. This tour never stops. The leg we are on we have about a week left, then we go home, then we go over to Europe, run around and eat bad food, then we go home for a couple weeks then we go back out to the states, run around, eat bad food, then we go home for a bit, then back to the states for a bit maybe a little more Canada, more bad food, then we go back to Europe, more bad food, then we go home for Christsma. Then we do it again forever.
Do you have any plans for future albums, maybe another Felt?
Slug: I have started writing the next record, it's about…. I read this story about a Russian bodyguard, a women that you could hire to be your bodyguard. She was trained in all types of fighting and weapons and she had killed a handful of people through the course of her career and she had protected successfully everybody that she had been hired to protect. She basically was kind of infamous for being a real badass. Then one night, she was leaving a party and she caught somebody trying to steal her car. She went to approach them to kick their ass or whatever, they took off in the car with her wrapped up in the car and she died by being dragged by her own vehicle, and I just thought that was so fucked up that I decided to make a record about it. It is a concept album about this woman who was such a badass but died while trying to protect her own car. Bless the dead.
Thanks for the interview. Anything else you would like to add?
Slug: Thank you for interviewing me, 411mania.com. Thank you Canada for french fries with gravy. It's a nice day.